This Indonesian Company Turns Seaweed Into Edible & Biodegradable Packaging

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Close-up of freshly farmed seaweed

Malorny / Getty Images

One potential solution to the massive plastic pollution problem could come from Evoware, which makes seaweed-based packaging that is not only 100% biodegradable, but is edible as well.

Plastics have been a boon to industry, but are now the bane of the planet, even as plastic pollution is expected to continue unabated (and even increase), with experts now predicting that by 2050 "the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight.." It's a curious and infuriating fact that our culture manufactures single-use products, such as beverage bottles, packaging, drinking straws, and bags, out of a material that basically never goes away, but instead just breaks down into smaller and smaller particles that find their way into almost everything.

According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, some 33% of all plastic is "used just once and thrown away," which contributes to an immense global problem. Although we might idealistically call for a ban of plastics, or mandatory recycling, or adding a hefty surcharge for each 'disposable' plastic item, one of the only things that seems to hold promise in reducing plastic pollution is to move toward greener materials that are made from renewable resources and can break down quickly without adding more of a toxic load to our waterways.

To intentionally misquote Mr. McGuire in the '67 film The Graduate, "There's a great future in bioplastics," but the problem is that some bioplastics can contain petro-based plastics as well, which might reduce the overall amount of fossil fuel-based plastics, while inadvertently creating more waste by allowing consumers to treat these bioplastics more casually than they do traditional plastics. But one solution might come from an Indonesian company that has found a method of producing biodegradable packaging from seaweed, which is shelf-stable for up to two years but is dissolvable in warm water.

According to Evoware, the development of a seaweed-based packaging company in Indonesia has the potential to address several issues, the first of which is that nation is "the world's second largest plastic contributor to the ocean," and that some 90% of plastic waste ends up in the ocean, and "70% of that waste comes from food and beverage packaging." The second issue is the state of seaweed farmers in Indonesia, which is "the largest seaweed producing country," and yet these farmers remain very poor and their families suffer from malnutrition and other poverty-related difficulties.

The Evoware seaweed-based packaging products come in two basic varieties, a biodegradable one that can be used for packaging soaps and other non-consumable items, and an edible one that can be used as a food wrap, for flavoring sachets, or tea bags. The edible packaging, which is "almost tasteless and odorless," dissolves in warm water and is considered to be nutritious, as it "contains high fiber, vitamins and minerals."

"Seaweed-based packagings are good for small-format food sachets and wraps, e.g. instant noodle seasoning, cereal, single serving coffee powder and the complements, rice wrap, burger wrap, etc. It's good to replace your conventional packaging to enjoy your delicious food in a convenient and healthy way, and a best way to save our only earth. It can also be used to package the non-food based contents such as toothpicks, soap bars and sanitary pads." - Evoware

By turning to locally-grown seaweed as a feedstock for biodegradable packaging, Evoware aims to boost the livelihoods of seaweed farmers while also working to reduce plastic waste in general, and to reduce ocean pollution in particular. The company was recently chosen as a winner in the Social Venture Challenge Asia 2017, which brought Evoware a cash award as well as a mentorship and participation in a business incubator, which aim to help bring the company's products to a bigger market.

h/t Laughing Squid